Journal ofmedical , 1985, 11, 88-91 J Med Ethics: first published as 10.1136/jme.11.2.88 on 1 June 1985. Downloaded from

Moral theories 's moral theory

Mary Margaret Mackenzie Fellow in Classics, New Hall, Cambridge

Editor's note maximise my , and be happy. However, Plato comes to see that a naturalist This paper introduces a new series on important theories in approach to evaluative qualities, and to relations, moral . The series is primarily aimed at non- causes difficulties. For no sensible (perceivable with an interest in ethics. through the senses) object has a particular any more than - at a different time, for a different , Plato's ethics lie at the centre of his philosophy. His in a different relation - it has its opposite. That values approach to 'how best to live' must deal with questions vary subjectively is taken to show that the phenomena of what there is in the world where we live - and how themselves embody an objective contradiction (7). To we talk, or know about it. So to grasp his moral be able to assess them, we must understand them; but theory we need to understand how it is integrated with since they are contradictory, they are cognitively the enterprise as a whole. Moreover, since he was a unreliable. Plato concludes, therefore, that over and dialectician par excellence we must discover what is his above sensible objects there exist entities that give method of doing philosophy with us and how he will absolute of values. These are the enveigle us into philosophical - the answer to Forms, cognitively reliable, pure instantiations, or these questions may overturn our view of his moral absolutes, of value. They provide us with the theory. of what is best. All talk of Plato must take a preliminary tilt at the

Furthermore, when we use a value term twice, on http://jme.bmj.com/ windmill - which of the we encounter in the separate occasions, we must have the same in Platonic dialogues belong to Plato himself, and which . From an early thesis that terms can have only must be attributed to his master ? There is no one meaning, Plato develops the view that for any short answer to the academic 'Socratic question'. For given term, there will be just one Form representing it now, suffice it to register that there is development (8). But that move, which derives, after all, some from the earlier works, such as the Protagoras (1), to plausibility from our linguistic behaviour, excludes the rich theory ofthe 'middle period', from the tautologically the possibility that words might be (2) to the Symposium (3) and (4). Plato's ambiguous. So there can be no disjunction between the on October 1, 2021 by guest. Protected copyright. philosophy is organic, subject to growth and decay; we aesthetic term 'beautiful' and the moral term 'noble', may look for the flower of his moral theory in the inasmuch as they are both rendered by the Greek kalos; Republic, but must search for its roots in the early nor can there be a structured complexity of meaning - period. 'just' must have a single sense. Consequently, just so To know 'how best to live' we must know what is long as two objects are given the same value predicate 'best'. In contrast to the subjectivist or the relativist, we could - given the right skill - judge between them. Plato supposed that evaluative qualities really belong What is more, one value may be explained in terms of to the object that is valued. Thus we call something another (9), so that we may decide between objects that 'beautiful' not because we are pleased by it, but instantiate different evaluative qualities - 'useful', because it genuinely has, independent of being 'pleasant' and 'fine'. appreciated, the quality of beauty (5). Values are So values are objective, naturally instantiated in the natural and objective. From his early days, Plato physical world; and we can really decide what is best. supposes therefore that what is valuable can be However, any valued object in the physical world is calculated and assessed in a decisive way. Prima facie, ipso facto valueless - at some time, from some I could judge whether x is more pleasant than y just as perspective etc. So to achieve what is most valuable, we I do judge that a is bigger than b. All I need (6) is the should aspire to reach the Form, which contains no right measuring skill - then, with its help, I can such contradictions (10). This pursuit is achieved by words intellectual means: by reasoning we rise above the Key dubious values of the imperfect world to grasp the Ethics; moral theories; Plato. Form ofthe beautiful. Intellect and desire join together Moral theories 89J Med Ethics: first published as 10.1136/jme.11.2.88 on 1 June 1985. Downloaded from in the pursuit of . willingly'. By the middle period however, a challenge That always pursue happiness is taken as is issued to this consequentialist account of - obviously true. Equally obviously, however, we are the challenge of luck, (12). Surely the slings and arrows often mistaken about where our happiness lies. None of fortune may sometimes detach the proper the less, says Plato (2) what we really desire is consequences from ? Some tyrants may get happiness; anything that we appear to desire which goods, some heroes perish in misery - all by luck. In turns out badly for us is not the object of our real the face of that possibility, how may the connection desire, we did not really want it. Thus desire is for true between virtue and happiness be maintained? happiness; and any falling short of that goal may be Plato's answer lies in his account of the virtuous explained in terms of our having made a mistake about soul. The soul is a complex entity. Reflection will show our objectives. So a desire for x only exists if x is that the best state of a complex is harmony. That can genuinely valuable. Now we, subjectivists that we are, only occur in the soul when each part has and does its tend to view a desire as genuine just when it occurs, own - when rules and the other parts are irrespective of its object, and to regard the desire as an subdued. Thus, as the health of the body, intrinsically independent product of the psyche of the . desirable, is physical order, so the health of the soul is Plato, on the other hand, asks us to believe that the psychic harmony - and that is happiness. However, desires we think, we have, but which turn out to be order in the soul is exactly like order in the State - and sawdust and ashes, are not desires at all. All failure, it is . The harmonious soul, then, is the just then, will run counter to our real desire for happiness (virtuous) soul, where reason rules. Such an internal - all failure will be involuntary. disposition is happiness, which is immune from the This view looks too simple. It ignores the possibility invasions of luck. of psychological conflict, and denies weakness of the This is manifestly vulnerable, not least will - knowing the better and doing the worse. As Plato because of its persistent use of analogy, and its moves away from the Socratic influence he develops a insistence on the single meaning ofterms (justice in the richer view of our psychological make-up than this State = justice in the soul). Instead of an account of (11). The soul (the person) has three parts: reason, behaviour, Plato has presented us with an account of a spirit (the source of moral indignation) and appetite. state, a disposition of the soul. In doing so, he lays Given such a complex, appetite, (for example) may himself open to the criticism that his theory is not desire x, while reason tells us to avoid x - and that is about morality at all - even if he has explained psychological conflict. So Plato seems to retract his happiness, his 'justice' is nothing to do with the justice earlier position. However, the tripartite analysis still that we know in the world of actions. Similarly, his requires that cases where appetite overcomes the conception ofhappiness bears very little relation to our of reason, and bad results follow, count as notions, consequentialist as they are. His account is sohttp://jme.bmj.com/ ignorance, the failure of reason. He who fails to get heavily intellectualist that it even betrays his own results, therefore, is still ignorant, and so acting complex and offers us instead an arid involuntarily. Reliable success, on the other hand, only intellectualist , which bears no relation to us, the occurs once the lower elements of the soul are subdued individuals he started with. In short, Plato's theory of and reason is in control. virtue and happiness is beside the point. Between the Some formal continuity, then, subsists between the crude calculi ofhis early and the rara

early thesis that knowledge (skill) brings success, and avis of the in the Republic a satisfying on October 1, 2021 by guest. Protected copyright. the Republic's analysis of the soul. In Plato's view of theory of morality has slipped between his fingers. virtue, too, there is a superficial uniformity. In the Yet Plato's theory does remain true to many of our early dialogues he claims that the - , central intuitions about justice, justice as a , justice, piety and - are a unity, distributive, static matter (13). Moreover, his account held together by the central function of wisdom. The of happiness reveals some of our unease at a wise man knows what is right and what is wrong; and consequentialist morality. One response to misfortune does what is right and eschews what is wrong - this is might be the tragic one - to accept it, to learn to live the skill of virtue. In the Republic, the rule of reason is with it. The alternative is to explore our intuitions for likewise the cohesive factor - true virtue only and a new conception ofhappiness free from the dangers of always occurs in the person whose reason is in charge. contingency. That is exactly what Plato offers us - the Thus, throughout his life Plato is, in one way or of ' of mind'. It remains to be seen another, committed to the Socratic dictum 'virtue is whether his innovation has gone too far. knowledge'. Plato's moral theory, as it appears in its full version Nevertheless, the difference between the early and in the Republic (4) is ofa piece with - and as vulnerable the middle periods of Plato's runs deep. as - his whole philosophy. It incorporates elements Originally he argued, often by dubious means, that from his (his theory of what exists): the virtue and only virtue is the craft which is productive of naturalist approach to evaluative qualities, and the happiness. Thus the agent who knows what he or she is theory of Forms; and his (theory of doing will act virtuously, knowing that such action will knowledge): given that there are real values, they are, produce happiness. It follows that 'no one does wrong ideally at least, accessible to those who know. The 90 Mary Margaret Mackenzie J Med Ethics: first published as 10.1136/jme.11.2.88 on 1 June 1985. Downloaded from knowers are the philosophers, happy in the he who knows, is genuine. Even ifthe benefit is secure, contemplative life; but they are also the rulers of the however, and we know it to be so, may we not have ideal State, since they alone know the good, rights, running counter to our interests, against understand perfectly how the State and each member paternalist interference? may achieve the most happiness. For the sake of the vi) In a similar vein, Plato's moral theory appears to community, then, they should rule, and their ride roughshod over the complexity of our notions of benevolent despotism should be accepted, for therein responsibility and culpability. We are inclined to assert lie the best interests of the ruled. responsibility even for failure, and we exculpate Plato is clearly an individualist, even if his political ourselves completely only at the of destroying our interests sometimes obscure this tendency. Taking it as sense of self. Plato, however, is committed throughout self-evident that we all pursue happiness he sees his life to the dictum 'no one does wrong willingly', himself as justified in doing moral philosophy, and his whereby only the good, knowledgeable man leads a life philosopher-kings as justified in paternalistic activity, that is voluntary. Against him, we who fall far short of provided they maximise the happiness of the such perfection still resist the swallowing up of individual. In this situation he envisages no separate, ourselves into the morass of paternalist pity. independent moral imperative; and he is committed to traditional morality only so far as traditional morality In short, in the face of such , we appear to coheres with individual happiness. What is more, Plato insist on an irrational element in morality - an is a rationalist: the moral system he offers is one where irreducible 'ought' that cannot be explained in a the conflicts of normal moral life are reasoned away: comprehensive analysis of our interests. We repudiate i) He allows no difference between matters of and Plato's moral theory on the grounds that it is matters of value: all qualities inhere in their objects. reductionist dogma which does not fit the of Do they? Even if they do, are they commensurable? moral life. ii) The early view of choice and the rationalism of the Yet Plato's intellectualism is ideal, as he himself Republic psychology suppose that if we know, we stresses. The State and the moral agent he describes choose goods rightly. Do we? Even if we know that are, dogmatically, the ideal; but they are impossible. virtue is happiness, can we still withstand weakness of The dialogues detailing the life and death of the the will (14)? philosopher (2) (15) (4) end, puzzlingly, with ill- iii) The Republic argues that virtue is identical with fitting, traditional myths. In the lack of fit between happiness. Plato supposes that moral terms of value traditionalism and the radical innovations of Plato we may be identified with the values ofprudence. But can may discern, I suggest, his true purpose in setting out morality be explained in terms of prudence? Are all such a moral theory. In general, Plato is not a moral imperatives to be analysed in terms of my own dogmatist, since he that only dialectic can http://jme.bmj.com/ interest? If not, we may be unable to show that moral convince. In that spirit, perhaps the moral theory was action is reasonable. If so, we may have left out of constructed as a challenge - a touchstone for account some irreducible moral 'ought'. To put the unthinking moral views. The contrast between the problem another way - it is still an open question traditional eschatology of the myths and the radical whether true altruism is either possible, or to be new moves of the is intended to make us enjoined. think, not to put doctrines into our minds. The fact iv) Plato's very enterprise betrays that he is vulnerable that he raises dilemmas and puzzles which are still alive on October 1, 2021 by guest. Protected copyright. to this difficulty. Plato and his philosopher-kings act vindicates the procedure: the challenges were benevolently by urging on us the means to happiness. accepted, the questions successfully asked about the However, Plato's own does not show how his actual world, the world of moral contradiction. own benevolent action might be reasonable on his own terms - how it might be in his own interests. Nor does he allow any other imperative to benevolence. He cannot easily demonstrate how the philosopher can be required to return to the world of , and rule, given that to do so is against his own interests. Plato's (1) Plato. Protagoras. rationalist egoism cannot justify benevolence. (2) Plato. Gorgias. v) From the point ofview of the subject, the patient or (3) Plato. Symposium. the criminal, however, the benevolent action of (4) Plato. Republic. legislator, doctor and judge is justified just because it (5) See (3): 210ff. promotes the interests of the beneficiary. He, when he (6) See reference(1): 351ff. recognises his good, will give retrospective - (7) Plato. Phaedo: 74. See reference (3): 21 1. See reference - (4): 479. vide Plato's psychology of desire even if he is the (8) Plato. Parmenides: 129. incurable criminal treated by euthanasia. The (9) See reference (2): 474. singularity of Plato's system does not allow any (10) See reference (3): 210. See reference (4): Book VII. counter-claim by the beneficiary - and his (1 1) See reference (4): Book IV. intellectualism supposes that the benefit, conferred by (12) See reference (2): 464. See reference (4): Book II. Moral theories 91 J Med Ethics: first published as 10.1136/jme.11.2.88 on 1 June 1985. Downloaded from

(13) See reference (4): Books I and II particularly with T Irwin. Plato's moral theory: the early and middle reference to the preliminaries about 'having and doing dialogues. Oxford: OUP, 1977. one's own'. M M Mackenzie. Plato on punishment. Berkeley: (14) . Nichomachean ethics: Book VII. University of California Press, 1981. (15) Plato. Phaedo. G Santas. Socrates. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1979. Select bibliography G Viastos. Platonic studies. Princeton: Doubleday Anchor, 1973. J Annas. An introduction to Plato's Republic. Oxford: G Vlastos. Socrates. New York: Doubleday Anchor, OUP, 1981. 1971. E R Dodds. The Greeks and the irrational. Berkeley: G Vlastos. Plato: II. New York: Doubleday Anchor, University of California Press, 1966. 1971.

Books received This is a list of books received for review consideration in the Journal of . Campbell Alastair. Professional Care its Meaning Current of the Jfudicial Council of the and Practice. Fortress Press, Philadelphia. 1984. American Medical Association 1984. American $7.95. paperback. Medical Association, 1985. $5.00. Snowden R and E. The Gift ofa Child. George Allen On the Uses of the : Vision and and Unwin, USA and . 1984. Application. Institute ofSociety, Ethics and the Life £4.95. paperback, £8.95 hard cover. , 1985. $8.00 paperback. Brooks Melissa and Flynn, Dr Anna M. A Manual Key in Community-based Services. The of Natural Planning. George Allen and Campaign for Medically Handicapped People, Unwin, England, USA, and Australia. £8.95 hard London, 1985. £2.00 paperback. cover. Saunders Dame Cicely, ed. The Management of Finlay Flora G and Stott Nigel C H. Care of the Terminal Malignant Disease. 2nd edition. Edward Dying - A Clinical Handbook. Churchill Arnold Ltd., 1985. £22.50 hard cover. Livingstone, 1984. £2.95 paperback. Alan and Wood Carl eds. In Vitro

Trounson http://jme.bmj.com/ Houghton Diana and Peter. Coping with the Fertilizatin and Embryo Transfer. Churchill Childless. George Allen and Unwin. 1984. England, Livingstone, 1984. £25.00 hard cover. USA, and Australia. £8.95 hard cover. Gosling David and Musschenga Bert eds. Mahoney John. and Beliefs. Sheed and andEthical Values. Introducing Ethics and Ward Ltd. 1984. £3.95 paperback. into the Science Classroom and Laboratory. Respect for Life. Christian Medical Fellowship, World Council of Churches in collaboration with 1984. £1.25. Georgetown University Press, Washington DC,

Block S and Reddaway P. Soviet Psychiatric Abuse - USA. SFr 13.90, US$6.25, £4.75 paperback. on October 1, 2021 by guest. Protected copyright. The Shadow over World Power. Gollancz, 1984. Bankowski Z and Howard-Jones N eds. Biomedical £10.95. involving Animals, Proposed International Hasler J and Pendleton D. Doctor - Patient Guiding , Proceedings of the XVIIth . Academic Press Inc, 1984. £17.00 CIOMS Round Table Conference. Council for hard cover. International Organisations of Medical Sciences Ling Lester S. Medical Thinking - A Historical (CIOMS). 1984. SFR 25. Preface. Princeton University Press, 1982. £3.35 Apfel Roberta J and Fisher Susan M. To Do No paperback, £8.30 hard cover. Harm. DES and the Dilemmas ofModern Medicine. Kopelmann L and Moskop J C. Ethics and Mental Yale University Press, London. 1985. £13.95 hard Retardation. D Reidel Publishing Co, Dordrecht, cover. Boston, Lancaster, 1984. Cloth Dfl 1.90, US$29.50 Donald Ian. Test Tube Babies - A Christian View. hard cover. 2nd Edition, with post Warnock IVF update. Cassell E J. The Place ofthe Humanities in Medicine. Order of Christian Unity, 1985. £2.95 paperback. Institute of , Ethics and Life Sciences. 1984. Thomas, Lewis. The Youngest Science. Oxford $7.00. University Press, 1985. £3.95 paperback. Ledermann E K. Mental Health and Human Whose Body Is It?: The Troubling Issue ofInformed : The True and the False Self. The Bury Consent. Virgo Press Ltd. 1985. £3.95. Publishing Co, 1984. £7.95+58pp.paperback Pappworth M H. Primer of Medicine. 5th ed. The £20.00+77 pp. cloth. Butterworth Group, 1984. £19.50 hard cover.